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Sat

28

Feb

2009

The Unprofessional Interviews – Part 1 – Edward Current
Saturday, 28 February 2009 11:49
by Michael Greenwell

Inspired by something that was said in a review of my book at Nepal about THIS interview with a Maoist Guerilla, I decided to conduct a series of interviews with people whose work I respect.

Subsequently a couple of writer/journalists, one comedian and one musician have answered already and there is more to come.

The questions will be an odd mix as the line I was inspired by in the review was that I asked “the one question that a truly professional journalist would never have asked.” Therefore for the most part I will try to ask questions that wouldn’t normally be asked. Some of them will be serious, others not so.

The first in the series is Edward Current.

Edward Current is probably the funniest thing I have seen on the internet. I found one of his videos with a random search and then sat and watched all of them in one sitting, and I obviously now check frequently for the latest ones.

With the number of people that have seen his videos now into the millions it appears I am not the only person who is doing this.

The videos parody some of the thinking of the religious right and takes the ideas to their ‘logical’ conclusion.

Not only are they hilarious but the reaction to the videos is almost equally funny as many people seem to be outraged by them because they don’t realise he is joking. Even better, many of those who do realise he is joking are outraged too.

So I decided to email him and see if he would be the first in my series ‘The Unprofessional Interviews’.

Thankfully he said yes and here is what he had to say for himself…

What was the 'genesis' of the character you play in most of your videos?

A few years ago, Huffingtonpost.com started a competition called the Contagious Festival, in which readers were invited to make videos and other Web presentations that would hopefully catch on and go viral. There were two cash awards each month — one for the video with the most viewers, and another selected by Arianna Huffington and a panel of judges. I won twice — first for a cartoon called "The Democrats Get Balls," in which I depicted Barack Obama being elected the next U.S. President — that was in March 2006. You can Google it; it's still on the site.

The second was for "The Atheist Delusion." I had just finished reading Sam Harris's "Letter to a Christian Nation" and thought I'd explore that area. On a message-board discussion somewhere, I saw a creationist calling a normal person "deluded" and concluding the comment with "checkmate!" The irony was so maddening to me, I worked it into the video.

After the Contagious Festival was discontinued, I put "The Atheist Delusion" on YouTube, where I had posted a couple of music videos. People liked my comedy a lot better, though. So I made a few more, using the same character, and started to build an audience. Now I'm kind of stuck with the character, but it looks like I kind of have a niche. And "checkmate!" has become my catch phrase.

Along with your videos the comments are quite funny too. From outraged Christians to outraged atheists a lot of people don't seem to get it. Why do so many people take what you are doing at face value?

It's "Poe's Law" — you can't make a parody of something that's already ridiculous without people believing that it's real. Plus, my technique is to take things that some Christians might actually say, but expose the ridiculousness of the statements merely by juxtaposing them or providing a certain context. So I'm not really exaggerating the other side's claims all that much, at least on some of my videos. It's more subtle than most satires.


Why do you think there has been such an extraordinary growth in Christian fundamentalism in the USA?

I see it as a positive feedback loop. America has been getting dumber, less rigorous intellectually with a diminishing emphasis on critical thinking and debate. Meanwhile, as things get more decadent and socially liberal, those who are inclined against such trends want to push back harder. It's all about people wanting simple, quick, easy answers to the biggest questions. Americans today want to be spoon-fed. They don't want to bother thinking for themselves, so increasingly they just believe what they're told — in church every Sunday. It's the mentality of, "God said it, I believe it, that settles it."

What do you think is the scariest thing about these people?

Home-schooling and the loss of grounding in science. Even in public schools it's scary. Science and technology are our future. Without that foundation in our young people, without getting young people excited about science and innovation, the U.S. cannot continue to be competitive as a nation on the world stage in this century.

What contacts with these people have you had?

I've had a few conversations online, but I'm lucky not to live in an area where the first thing people ask is, "What church do you go to?" Along the way, though, I've picked up an idea of how they think and the arguments they use, which is useful to me. And of course I acknowledge that not all Christians, even fundamentalists, believe the things my character says — but some do, so those are the ones I'm going after.

What do you think about Obama professing his Christianity time and again during the campaign? And if there was an element of pragmatism to him doing that, what does that say about political processes in America?

He's a smart guy and I don't know what really goes on in his head, but I see it as largely pragmatic. At least I hope so. He's trying to be inclusive and bring people together. As much as I'd love for him to say, "Don't bother praying for the economy," that isn't going to get us anywhere, really. Of course, I was thrilled that he mentioned nonbelievers in his inaugural speech. That was a huge leap forward for my people — to actually be recognized. I think the last time a president talked about nonbelievers was when George Bush Sr. asserted that they shouldn't be considered U.S. citizens.

On "The Daily Show" recently, a guest was asked to order groups of people in terms of when a member would reach the White House — blacks, Hispanics, Jews, women, atheists, gays, the disabled. He put atheist last. We have a long way to go.

Who do you find funny?

My favorite comedian is Bill Maher. I've seen almost every episode of "Politically Incorrect" or "Real Time" since the mid-1990s. I can't think of a better way to spend an hour than watching his standup act. Stephen Colbert is another huge favorite; when I tape my videos I have to make a concerted effort not to copy his delivery. Demitiri Martin, who has a new show on Comedy Central, is hilarious. ("I don't think diving is a real sport. It's pretty much just showing off while you fall.") Other favorites include Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Norm Macdonald, Chris Rock, David Cross, Louis C.K., and Dave Attell.

Have you ever played the character in public?

No. I don't know if I could pull it off, because I don't have any improv experience. My videos are heavily scripted. I do want to try my hand at standup comedy, but that won't be in character.

You occasionally have special effects and quite sophisticated editing. Is it all self-financed?

I've been self-employed since 2003, and one of my gigs is video production and animation for a major phone company. If you've been to a concert and seen videos promoting music-related phone features on monitors along the concourse, I might have produced them. I've gotten pretty good at Adobe After Effects, which certainly comes in handy for Edward Current the comedian.

For running this website  I have had a lot of hate mail including one person who seems to think that a flying squirrel will one day murder me. Given the nature of what you do, do you get some bizarre emails? Any funny ones?

I don't know if this counts, but in a recent video I brought up alternative 9/11 conspiracy theories, and that got kind of interesting. There's a little bit of paranoia there. I learned that the more moderate "Truthers" (the ones who merely believe that the Twin Towers were brought down by explosives) think that the more radical ones (those who believe the jets were fake and/or remote-controlled) are crazy. Who'd have thought? The moderate ones think the radical ones are "agents provocateur" who are hired by the conspiring agencies to make the whole movement look crazy. It's crazy.

Aside from that, I don't get a lot of bizarre stuff. Typically it's just: "I'll pray for you," "Why are you so hateful," "You'll find out about Hell someday." Christians tend to be pretty polite, even if they're angered. Atheists — the ones who don't get the joke — can be extremely rude and abusive. I've gotten numerous (not serious) death threats from atheists, but maybe just one or two creepy messages from Christians. ("You *will* stop making your videos very soon, trust me.")

Looking from outside it often seems like the USA is a loony bin. Is it?

No, it's a bin with a diverse mixture of people. The loonies are only the ones you hear the loudest. Actually, I take that back. It's kind of a loony bin.

What question would you ask yourself?

One question I ask myself sometimes is, what's my motivation to make all these videos? Some people see me as obsessed — I have a fixation, I cannot let this topic go, why don't I explore some other areas for comedy, clearly I secretly believe in God and am going through all of this effort to make myself feel better. Well, maybe, but I don't think so. All my life as a musician I've been searching in vain for an audience. Suddenly I've found one — as a comedian. And I seem to have a "bit" that people enjoy. I tried a few political things before the election, but they weren't received as well, so I went back to religion. Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy have made great careers out of being one character, so maybe it's the way for me to go.

Eddie’s youtube videos are here and his Myspace is here.


Michael Greenwell blogs at http://michaelgreenwell.wordpress.com.and is a member of www.spinwatch.org. He also maintains the animal extinction blog http://exitstageright.wordpress.com.

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